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National agreement on screening for cervical cancer

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Australian Health Ministers' Conference



Australian Health Ministers today agreed that all Australian women aged between 18 and 70 years who have ever had sexual intercourse should be screened for cervical cancer not less than every two years.

Chairman of the Health Ministers' conference and SA Health Minister, Dr Don Hopgood, said the coordinated approach agreed to will enhance the early detection of potential cancers of the cervix. Treatment of such conditions prevents cancers from developing.

A key factor in the development of a coordinated approach has been agreement on a national screening policy, particularly on how often screening should be done and which women should be screened.

The policy has received strong support from the medical profession, from women's health organisations and from cancer societies. It has been welcomed as an essential step in reducing avoidable deaths from cervical cancer.

A major concern for ministers was the low participation rates in cervical cancer screening among older women, despite the higher incidence of the disease that occurs in older age groups. There were misunderstandings about this disease which acted to discourage women from screening regularly throughout


The appointment of Dr Edith Weisberg, Medical Director of the NSW Family Planning Association, as the Commonwealth spokesperson on cervical cancer screening, was announced by the Federal Minister for Community Services and Health, Brian Howe, in February. Dr Weisberg is an expert in this field and will assist in promoting the reduction of deaths from this

eminently preventable disease by educating women about cervical cancer screening.

The ministers said proposals will be developed to ensure that all women have access to information about the disease, and about the screening services available.


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Α large proportion of cervical cancers can be prevented by­ undergoing a simple test once every two years. Work will be done on the development of reminder services to assist women to remember when their next test is due.

Methods of ensuring a high standard of reliability in Papsmear testing are also receiving a high priority.

The recommendations on which the national screening policy was based are contained in a report submitted to Health Ministers as a result of a national evaluation of cervical

cancer screening. The report 'Cervical cancer screening in Australia - options for change', found that there was overwhelming evidence supporting the effectiveness of

organised screening programs.

For more information: Marilyn Chalkley Tony Nagy AHMC Secretariat (08) 210 6782